I’m Falling In Love With An Android…Phone

an android with love in its eyes

A few weeks ago, something happened to me that makes geeks the world over scream with happiness: my cell phone contract had reached its end with my previous carrier.  To normal folk, this might not seem like that exciting of an occasion, but to the geek species, this is almost like having a second birthday.

Suddenly faced with a decision that will once again lock me into 2 years of ridiculous fees, unchanging phone hardware and the prospect that I would have to use yet another phone that I would not enjoy, I decided to shop around instead of going with the only local carrier with decent coverage here in my area.

I said goodbye to US Cellular, and went out into the world to find a carrier/phone combo that met my needs.  Each one of the providers had a major flaw, but I decided I had to look past that flaw in order to find a device that was exactly what I needed.

So, Sprint became the clear choice, regardless of the fact that they do not have a retail store in our area.  Now to decide which phone I wanted to use.



Palm Pre vs. HTC Hero

I had whittled the choice down to two major competitors: the Palm Pre and the HTC Hero.  Both are great phones, and have solid app stores with a multitude of applications that could compliment my everyday workflow.


The final choice came down to some news I heard a little while back from the Linux Computer Action Show.  It turns out that the Palm Pre allegedly radios back with possibly identifying information to the Palm mother ship.  Whether or not this is true is a moot point, as the negative press was enough to derail me from making that decision as a consumer.

Win goes to HTC and Google for not being evil.

I have been lusting after an iPhone since the day Steve Jobs walked onto the stage and announced that Apple was going to revolutionize the phone industry.  The idea of having a small all-in-one device that I could carry around spoke to the core of my geek soul.  Since Apple is tidally locked with AT&T into the foreseeable future, and AT&T gets absolutely no reception at my home, the iPhone was completely disqualified as a choice.

For almost just as long, hearing the news about Google’s Linux-based phone OS venture got me frothing at the mouth.  I had never played with an Android phone (compared to the long periods I would stand in Wal-Mart and play with the iPhone), so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.

The reviews for the HTC Hero seemed to be not as great as I had hoped, but in the interest of shininess, I made the leap, and purchased the phone with a plan from Sprint.

The Plan

Sprint Logo

Sprint seems to have some spectacular phone plans.  When compared to the archaic terms of service at US Cellular, you would think that I was trading in my Yugo for a 2010 Subaru WRX STI.

I won’t belabor the point of the specifics of my plan, but let’s just say that it’s cheap and provides me with more than I could ever need.  I don’t talk on my phone much (I’ve used 3 minutes since I started the contract on October 16th), so the Unlimited 450 plan was just right for me.

And when they say unlimited, it appears they mean unlimited:

  1. Unlimited Nights & Weekends – Starting at 7pm
  2. Unlimited Calls to Any Cell Phone – Regardless of Carrier
  3. Unlimited Roaming
  4. Unlimited Data

Man, what could be better than that?

The Setup

I got my phone three days after signing up online, and unboxed it with 3 hours ahead of me of play time.  This is when the snags started.

The Hero has an automatic setup procedure that registers the phone to your number, contacts the Sprint servers and gets everything setup without your intervention.  Sounds great in theory.  But it failed.

It failed over and over.  I hopped on Sprint’s Customer Support website and began a chat with a representative in order to get this straightened out.  They quickly walked me through manually registering the phone with the network, and I was up and running in about 25 minutes.

One major snag – I was roaming at my house.  Well, this turned out to not be a snag at all, due to the Unlimited Roaming provided with my plan.  Sweet!

The Phone

HTC Hero Sprint edition

The HTC Hero is a solid piece of electronics.  Its weight is just right, and it feels rugged.  Though the touch screen does get a bit greasy due to my overly sweaty hands, a few minutes in an empty pocket at walking speed erases the smudges without a trace.

The display is absolutely gorgeous.  The colors are bright and crisp, and there doesn’t seem to be any delay in graphics when animations are present.

The custom HTC “Sense” UI tacked onto Android is quite lovely, and does give the interface a slick, professional feeling.

The camera is so extremely awesome, it’s hard to put into words.  This handset packs a 5MP digital camera with auto adjustments.  It does lack a flash, which makes taking low-light pictures difficult, but in full-light situations, it is remarkable.

The phone also packs a WiFi receiver (which is great coupled with Google Voice and my home network), a GPS receiver and a digital compass.

Android 1.5

One of the best possible things for me to have in a phone is a way to sync my daily life and carry it around in my pocket.  I am constantly in need of a good to-do list manager, a calendar, my email and various other pieces of functionality.

And, since I use Google already for everything under the sun, using an Android phone simply makes sense.  Google has provided built-in applications and widgets for the majority of their cloud-based services, including:

  • Gmail
  • Google Voice
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Contacts
  • Google Talk

Once you get your Android phone up and running, simply logging into a Google service will get you started syncing your entire online life.  Now all of my Google Calendar events are constantly up-to-date, so I can truly know where I need to be and when.  This is invaluable to someone who is as forgetful as I am, and allows me to easily make appointments without having to worry about whether or not I agreed to a previous engagement during that time slot.

Since I started using Google Voice, I have been paying more attention to keeping my Google Contacts in good form, and boy has that load of work paid off.  Your Google Contacts are used as the phone’s central contact list, including phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and even the personal profile image of the contact.

When I decide to make a call, I get a prompt asking me if I would like to make the call over Google Voice, or over the cell network.  This is a handy feature that would potentially allow me to cut down on the minutes I use in my plan—but is wasted on me due to my very low talk time.

Gmail is integrated into every aspect of Android.  If I take a photo, I can easily hit the “Share” button in the photo viewing application and quickly send it through email.  And what’s great about the ubiquity of Gmail on this platform is that all contact information is pulled from your central Contacts data, giving you auto complete address lookup.

I have to say that I think Android is a home run when it comes to “Smart Phone” operating systems.

The Apps

The reason I had the Pre, Android and iPhone in the running to be my next phone was due to the concept of 3rd party applications.  The phone itself provides quite a few great applications that I use constantly, but there are always some itches that just can’t be scratched by one company alone.

evernote icon logo elephant I’ve been using Evernote for a while now, and rely on it on a daily basis to keep my brain from turning to complete mush.  It helps me keep track of reference information for projects, and also allows me to defer reading material until I have the proper amount of time to absorb the information.  Imagine my glee when just before buying my new Android phone Evernote announces a Beta app for Android.  It’s still very much on the Beta side of things, but it gives me access to search and read my notes, which is enough for now.

twitter_icon I’m also a Twitter user, and I went back and forth between several Twitter apps, and ended up landing on Peep, HTC’s built-in Twitter client.  It does pretty much everything I need in one nice little app.

facebook_icon Occasionally, I’ll also want to update my Facebook status, and the default Facebook App works like a charm.

rtm_icon And the list of apps that I use wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the one app that keeps me on the right track: Remember The Milk.  The Android RTM app is the most used app on my phone.  It allows you to set a location for a task, and will give you a notification if you are within a certain (user configurable) distance from that location based upon your GPS data.  This is ingenious, and allows me to confidently go to Wal-Mart and know that I’m not going to forget to purchase the E.L. Fudge cookies that my wife is craving.

In addition to location-aware tasks, RTM integrates with Google Calendar.  This gives me the ability to view and edit my tasks in both applications, and I can easily know what’s ahead for the next few days.

Issues

The first few days I used my new Hero, and I was surprised at how quickly the battery drained with normal use.  After doing a little digging, I came to find out that this wasn’t just me, but apparently it’s a bug in the default Notifications app, which lets you know when you receive a text message.  The application, once invoked, refuses to the let the phone sleep, and consequently it is active 100% of the time, drastically reducing the per-charge lifetime of your battery.

The workaround is easy, since I have a Google Voice account.  I have simply given out my Voice number to everyone, and now only receive calls and text messages through Voice.  Once I shut down the Notifications app, and removed the chance for someone to send me a text directly to my new cell number, my battery life has become remarkably better.

The second issue I have is the lack of WPA2 Enterprise support with the WiFi adapter.  It appears that the phone itself can connect to these types of networks, but there is currently no UI which supports logging in with the credentials needed.  An alternative method exists, but requires you to “root” your phone, which I don’t think I’m comfortable with at this point.  This means that I’m stuck with the Sprint network for surfing the web at school.

Lastly, Android 1.6 (Donut) has been out for a while now, but no update has been provided from Sprint or HTC.  BUT this is cancelled out by the announcement that Android 2.0 (Eclair) is on its way in the not-too-distant future, and HTC has publicly stated that it will be coming to the Hero.

Conclusion

iPhone?  What’s that?  Never heard of it.

I’ve only spent a few weeks with this device, but I can already see a long-term relationship between Android and myself.  And there is lots of love going on.  Man, that sounded a lot more innocent in my head.

If you have a chance to buy an Android phone, don’t hesitate.  I’ll post some updates with any new apps that I come across that are useful.